Rally Liepāja, the opening round of the sixty-fourth FIA European Rally Championship season, will have entries from seventeen European countries and one from South America – Paraguay. Latvia will be represented by eight crews, including the 2015 ERC Junior class runner-up Ralfs Sirmacis, who will be driving a Škoda Fabia R5. The winter event will take place from February 5 to 7 on the Liepāja and Kuldīga region roads.
ERC1 class has 14 entries, with all four current R5 class cars represented – Ford Fiesta (six crews), Škoda Fabia (five),Citroen DS3 (two) and Peugeot 208 T16 (one). A Fiesta R5 will be driven by the Polish crew of Kajetan Kajetanowicz / Jaroslaw Baran, for whom it will be the first of ten rallies trying to defend their 2015 European champion’s title. Also among entries, the well-known Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk, who set six of eleven fastest stage times last year, but was not able to fight for the overall victory due to a crash. In addition to Sirmacis, a Fabia R5 will be driven by another Latvian crew – Raimonds Kisiels / Arnis Ronis, for whom this will be a return to ERC (in 2013, they drove aMini JCW RRC and were fifth). One of the two Citroen DS3 cars will be driven by last year’s champion in ERC2 class, Hungarian Dávid Botka, while the lone Peugeot 208 T16 will be driven by the Italian crew of Giacomo Costenaro / Justin Bardini.
Seven crews will battle it out in ERC2 class, all driving various generations of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Among the entries, we have Latvian champions in LRC2 class Jānis Vorobjovs / Andris Mālnieks and multiple time Latvian champion Māris Neikšāns, who will return to rallying after a multiple year break. In addition to them, there will also be crews from Italy, Russia, Poland and even Paraguay, with the South American crew beginning their European rally programme in Liepāja, with the goal of learning to drive in new conditions and further improving their driving skills.
The most popular class, ERC3 (consisting of R2 and R3 class cars), also has a few locals competing, with four crews driving under the Latvian flag. FIA World Rallycross Championship driver Reinis Nitišs will be driving a Sports Racing Technologies prepared car, and his co-driver this year will be Andis Neikšāns. Emīls Blūms and Nikolay Gryazin will also represent Latvia, with all three of the drivers at the wheel of Peugeot 208 R2 cars and competing in the ERC Juniorclass. The fourth Latvian Automobile Federation (LAF) licence holder with be Petr Turkin, who will be driving an ASRT Rally Team prepared Citroen DS3 R3T Racing.
ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team will be represented with three Opel Adam R2 cars, driven by Germans Marijan Griebel and Julius Tannert, as well as Chris Ingram from Great Britain. In addition to that, the 2015 FIA European Rally Trophywinner and 2014 and 2015 Turkish rally champion Murat Bostanci has also registered for the event, moving from his regular all-wheel drive car to a Ford Fiesta R2. A Norwegian/Swedish crew of Jan Steve Røkland / Patrik Barth (Peugeot 208 R2) will also take part and, in fact, they were the very first to register for this year’s Rally Liepāja!
Along with the first round of the FIA European Rally Championship, two Latvian Rally Championship rounds will also take place during the event. A few of the aforementioned crews will contest both the European and Latvian championship rounds, but it’s also important to note that the LRČ rounds will be contested by last year’s LRČ1 class Latvian champion Guntis Lielkājis, co-driven by Ivars Grošs, in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.
Fifteen year old Kalle Rovanperä, the son of former FIA World Rally Championship driver Harri Rovanperä, has also registered for the event, driving a Škoda Fabia S2000. We can also add that another talented youngster will be tackling the stages – Mārtiņš Sesks, son of the Mayor of Liepāja Uldis Sesks, who will represent LMT Autosport Academy.
Entry list available HERE.
Rally Liepāja will begin on Friday, February 5, with the qualifying stage, starting position choice for the top 15 crews and the ceremonial start. The first six stages of the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship will take place on Saturday, February 6, on the Kuldīga region roads, with the day containing not only the longest stage of the rally (SS3/4 Neste Oil at 25.14 km), but also a stage taking part in the twilight – SS6 Kuldīga 2, set to begin at 16:15. The event will continue on Sunday, February 7, when the best European drivers will compete on the roads of Liepāja region. There will be seven stages, one of which is the Vecpils special stage, including the autocross track. To determine the winner, the crews will return to Liepāja and compete on the final city stage around the Great Amber concert hall. After finishing the racing part of the event, drivers and spectators are welcome to the Great Amber for the awards ceremony.
Text and photo: www.lvrally.com